There is no doubt that 2019 has been the year of the home run. The Yankees and the Twins battled for most of the season to see which team hit the most dingers, with Minnesota coming out on top with 307 round-trippers, establishing a new record for a single season. The Yankees, however, hit 306 themselves in the exciting race, one that was decided in the last game.
The power display didn’t exclusively come from the Yankees and Twins, though. The league as a whole had a 1.40 HR/9 rate, compared to 1.16 in 2018 and 0.96 in 2010. The 15.3 HR/FB rate in 2019—by far the highest of the decade—is evidence that the “juiced ball” had its effect on MLB’s collective offensive output.
Overall, teams hit the ball harder than ever. Per FanGraphs’ data, the league’s collective hard-hit rate was 24.3% in 2011, and this year it climbed to 38%. The rate of groundballs decreased, while fly balls and isolated power went up. The “fly-ball revolution” and the ball itself have combined to produce homers at a record-breaking pace.
Speaking of records, another one is in danger of falling thanks to the home-run barrage. It’s the one set by the 2002 San Francisco Giants and the 2017 Houston Astros, most taters hit in a single postseason. Those teams went on to slug 27 en route to World Series appearances, with the Astros winning the ring against the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Giants losing against the Angels.
Everybody remembers the 2002 San Francisco Giants, with peak Barry Bonds leading the way with laser after laser to the McCovey Cove. He had eight home runs in that postseason, with Rich Aurilia following him with six.
The 2017 Astros won it all thanks, in large part, to excellent individual performances by second baseman Jose Altuve, who hit seven, and outfielder George Springer, who contributed six taters. Both are still fixtures in Houston’s lineup.
This time around, the Yankees’ lineup is stacked with power from top to bottom. Even Didi Gregorius, who didn’t have his finest year at the plate, has already hit a grand slam against the Twins, a reminder that his lefty bat has plenty of pop.
From first to ninth, everybody in the Bombers’ lineup can hit it out of the park: Gary Sanchez, Luke Voit, DJ LeMahieu, Gleyber Torres, Gio Urshela, Giancarlo Stanton, Brett Gardner, Aaron Judge, Edwin Encarnacion, and even the bench players. There is no easy out.
Can the 2019 Yankees set the record?
This year, hitting 27 home runs in the postseason may sound easy to achieve, but a few things would have to happen for the Yankees to break the record. First and foremost, they need to get to the World Series because it may not be realistic to expect them to mash that many homers in just two series.
They also may need, for the record’s sake, for all series to go to six or seven games. Of course, everyone from players to fans would prefer to focus on winning the ring with the least possible stress, but we are talking about a hypothetical scenario that may only be plausible with enough games.
The Yankees certainly have firepower: they had a couple of 30+ homer guys, five with at least 25, seven with 20, and 14 hitters with 10 round-trippers. Some of them aren’t even on the postseason roster. And that doesn’t include Giancarlo Stanton, who was injured for most of the year and didn’t have enough plate appearances to demonstrate his huge power in the regular season.
Analyzing potential rivals, the Rays are especially stingy when it comes to allowing home runs; their pitching staff led all baseball in WAR and conceded the lowest HR/9, with 1.10.
The Astros, however, have some homer-prone hurlers, considering that even 2019 Justin Verlander, a Cy Young candidate, is known for giving up more than his fair share of dingers. Zack Greinke, the best of Houston’s vaunted rotation trio at preventing the long ball, just got battered with three in 3.2 innings yesterday. The other “musketeer,” Gerrit Cole, is looking nasty, but he can also give up a homer or two from time to time.
The record, while definitely not in the players’ minds, may be within reach. It isn’t by chance that this group hit 306 home runs, or 1.88 per game, and with a deep playoff run and a couple of guys catching fire (hello, Aaron Judge) breaking it seems doable. They are going to need to slightly improve upon that 1.88 average to achieve that, though.